Janis Irwin portrait

Janis Irwin: Advocated For Her Constituents

Janis Irwin is the MLA for Edmonton-Highlands. This constituency runs from the Yellowhead Trail on the north side to the North Saskatchewan River in the south, and from 50 Street in the east to 97 Street in the west.

Irwin is an incredibly engaged MLA who was elected in 2019. She began door knocking in August of 2018 in order to meet with every household within the riding in time for the April 2019 election. Her commitment to community engagement won her the seat, and her dedication as the representative for her constituents in the legislature reflects the dedication she showed when campaigning.

Throughout the two month lockdown from March until May, Irwin stayed in touch with her constituents in any way she could. For many people, the connection was via social media. 

Irwin explained how her job changed once the community was in isolation. 

Irwin would like to see changes in our systems. Covid has highlighted the failures of our systems and institutions. “I talked in the legislature early on, saying that the biggest mistake would be if we come out of the pandemic unchanged.”

“I am very active in the community. Initially folks were unsure and there was less opportunity for community engagement.” She emphasized the importance of continuing to connect with her isolated constituents. “We need to encourage relationships in a time of distancing.”

She values all her constituents, even those who might not necessarily vote. Irwin visited her homeless constituents at their tent communities along the LRT tracks in person, checking in to see what she could offer for support. “I do lots of meeting up with people. Constantly checking up on people who might be struggling. I need to show that even though Covid has changed things, community is more important than ever.” 

She pointed out the resilience of the neighbourhoods she represents. “Folks have creative ways to have community clean ups and outdoor events.”

Irwin is most proud of still engaging with people and being politically responsive. For example, a UCP MLA told Irwin to “get out of your Twitter bubble.” This is ironic, as people see Irwin at community events every week.

On the political front, Irwin said,  “As a member of the Opposition, our job is to highlight serious issues that the UCP policies are causing.” 

The legislature was in session during the lockdown and continued to operate. The Official Opposition (24 NDP MLAs) set up shifts during question period so they could have one or two chairs between each member in the house to allow for physical distancing. 

Always looking out for her constituents and Albertans’ best interests, Irwin was critical of the UCP stance on public health and public education. 

Irwin stated, “Bill 30 is an attack on public health during a pandemic.” During the spring legislative session the UCP, with a majority government, passed a number of contentious bills. 

Bill 30, the Health Statutes Amendment Act, will allow opening private surgical facilities outside the public health care system. Bill 32 increased employers’ rights and decreased the rights of workers. 

Irwin said, “The attack on Alberta’s labour unions by the UCP is a direct attack on the rights of working women in our province. We must not, and we will not, allow this government to roll back the rights that unions fought so hard for and won.” 

During the summer, Irwin advocated for a safe return to schools. “It is not a partisan issue to be concerned about the safety of staff, families, and students.” 

As an advocate for her constituents, Irwin takes the difficulties of her job to heart. Irwin found several things difficult during the pandemic. “The other side of the coin is [that] while we’re fighting so hard to support basic institutions of society, we’re up against a government that is so unwilling to listen, and seem heartless and uncaring. It’s a feeling of helplessness. And people are disheartened.”

As an MLA, Irwin said, “I feel the responsibility to keep people engaged and hopeful.”

Irwin would like to see changes in our systems. Covid has highlighted the failures of our systems and institutions. “I talked in the legislature early on, saying that the biggest mistake would be if we come out of the pandemic unchanged.”

“We should be questioning structures we have in place. Homelessness. Housing. Vulnerable folks,” she continued. “As legislatures, we have got gaps and we have to fill those gaps.”

“I worry we will come out unchanged, that we didn’t learn to look after our neighbours better.”

Irwin addressed the future. “My hope waivers, given the pattern of this government. But there is a movement afoot in the province; people are recognizing this government. They want a government that truly does care. I want to get to a place where people truly are uplifted.”

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